On this day in comedy on January 27, 1942 Comedian, Actor, John Witherspoon was born in Detroit, Michigan.
Born John “Weatherspoon”, he changed his name because of course “Witherspoon” is an obvious improvement. He had other moniker alterations as well. For instance he also went by the name of “Mexico” John Witherspoon and Johnny Witherspoon. Then again he broke into show business as a male model (he was a “Duke Man” in Jet magazine) where aliases’ were a necessity, but in the late 60s he drifted into stand-up comedy.
John Witherspoon’s onstage persona was accessible and animated. In other words it was a perfect combination for film and television. His first role was as a youth counselor on an episode of the CBS detective show, Barnaby Jones. He went on to guest star in such 70s hits as Good Times, The Incredible Hulk and What’s Happening!! Comedian / Writer, Paul Mooney pegged Witherspoon to be part of the ensemble for The Richard Pryor Show in 1977. The show only lasted 4 episodes, but Witherspoon made an impression. He also made a string of guest starring roles: WKRP in Cincinnati, Hill Street Blues, L. A. Law, You Again? Frank’s Place, 227, What’s happening Now!!, Amen, Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and as a regular on Townsend Television.
Film work has been a constant thread throughout Witherspoon’s career. He started out in 1980’s The Jazz Singer as the M C and 1986s Ratboy, but in 1987 things went into overdrive. Hollywood began making black films again and Witherspoon was in practically all of them beginning with the Robert Townsend / Keenen Ivory Wayans parody, Hollywood Shuffle. After that they just kept coming: I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Bird, House Party, Talkin Dirty After Dark, The Five heartbeats, Boomerang, Meteor Man, Fatal Instinct, Murder Was the Case and Friday.
The Ice Cube / Chris Tucker blockbuster, Friday spawned a franchise and gave Witherspoon his largest role to showcase his talents. In Boomerang he popularized in catchphrase “Bang, bang, bang, bang”, but in the Friday films he was able to utilize all his antics. He played Ice Cube’s father; the kind of dad that would call you into the toilet for a family conference / chastising session while he took a dump. Those same hilarious ticks and verbal assaults got a long term workout back on television on the WB sitcom, The Wayans Bros. Witherspoon played father to Shawn and Marlon Wayans (Williams on the show). He ran a café by day and the attention to him in every scene he stole.
Witherspoon loved stealing scenes. He did it in 2003 on The Tracy Morgan Show for all 18 episodes. He did on Living Single, Black Jesus and Black-ish. He stole them in even more films: Vampire in Brooklyn, Sprung, Bulworth, I Got the Hook Up, Fakin Da Funk, Little Nicky, Soul Plane, Little Man, and A Thousand Words. He did it when he did voice-overs for animated series, Wayneshead, The Proud Family, Kim Possible and The Boondocks. He’s done it in music videos for Goodie Mob, L L Cool J, Field Mob, Hitman Sammy Sam and Jay-Z and John Witherspoon always steals the show whenever he tours as a stand-up comedian.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
Check out this clip of Witherspoon: